This season’s Russian Art sales at Sotheby’s taking place on 1-2 December will offer a rich selection of works from some of the most renowned creators of Russian art. The live studio sales taking place in London will be led by a distinguished collection of Fabergé masterpieces, which will be offered on behalf of the Brooklyn Museum, New York, with proceeds to establish a fund to support the care and preservation of the Museum’s world-class collections in perpetuity.
Following the strength of both the Russian Pictures and Russian Works of Art, Fabergé & Icons sales earlier this year, both of which saw new auction records set – Ivan Aivazovsky’s The Bay of Naples for the highest price achieved for any artwork sold in an online auction, and an auction record for a Fabergé icon – this season’s sales will offer another exceptional and diverse selection of pieces from the most sought-after makers, spanning various periods, and representing many of the major movements in Russian art.
Offered as part of a wider selection of works from the Museum collection encompassing Contemporary, Impressionist and Modern art, the dedicated sale in London will feature 12 pieces created by the legendary Russian jewellery house, and a further 5 pieces of vertu created by Fabergé’s contemporaries.
The Brooklyn Museum’s proceeds from Sotheby’s sales will be used to establish a Collection Care Fund to support caring for the institution’s collection. Creating a direct care fund will help offset the vastly growing expenses of collection care and stabilize collection care efforts in times of economic downturn.
The sale on 2 December will be led by an impressive gold-mounted smoky topaz vase, (Lot 12, estimate of £300,000 – 500,000). Completely unique in Fabergé’s production, the rare masterpiece represents the apogee of the firm’s lapidary works and is amongst the greatest technical and aesthetic achievements of the firm’s head workmaster, Michael Perchin. Perfectly carved from a huge piece of smoky quartz and mounted in the highest carat gold, the vase was the most costly, and most lavish, of the imperial gifts presented by Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia (1850-1908) to his favourite actress, Elizabeth Balletta, prima ballerina at the Imperial Mikhailovsky Theatre.
The museum collection which was assembled in the 1950s, and boasts rich exhibition history and quality, represents the best of Fabergé’s famous lapidary work, including a beautiful array of Fabergé animals, flowers and a stunning Fabergé hardstone clock.
The Russian Paintings sale on 1 December will be led by Nuit d’hiver (Lot 97, estimate: £1.5 – 2million), an important work by Natalia Goncharova, with impeccable provenance. An early oil by the leading avant-garde artist, the work, on the cusp of neo-primitivism, represents a pivotal moment in the artist’s career, with the sale presenting an exceptionally rare opportunity to acquire an oil from the artist’s Russian period. For an artist who so often worked in cycles, the seasons were of particular significance to Goncharova. The elegant balustrade and dress of the women in Nuit d’hiver point to Moscow as the setting for this winter scene. Goncharova was known to often go to Petrovsky Park in the North West of the city while a student to seek out the woods, birds and animals she so missed from her childhood in Tula. The park and its pond feature throughout the seasons in many of the artist’s paintings from this period, and is likely to be the location for this work.
Kept in the same family for over a century, never shown in public and appearing at auction for the first time, Henryk Siemiradzki’s Parnassus (Lot 14, estimate: £400,000 – 600,000) is an exciting rediscovery. It is a version, reduced in size, of the artist’s last great work, and one of his most celebrated, the curtain of the Opera House in Lviv. Work on the curtain was finalised in 1900, and the grand opening of the Opera House took place on 4th October of the same year, attended by the artist as well as many other representatives of the European cultural elite. Parnassus, almost identical in composition, only far smaller than the Lviv version, is dated 1900. The painting is therefore not a study, but rather a later, smaller and highly finished version of the original and most likely the result of a commission.
From the diary entries of the celebrated artist, Konstantin Somov, we know that Sleeping Lady in a Room in 18th Century Dress (Lot 59, estimate: £300,000 – 500,000) was painted at the behest of Bernhard Venyaminovich Elkan, the Petrograd dentist, art-lover and one of the most ardent collectors in Petrograd. Somov frequently repeated images of sleeping, dozing and reclining beauties throughout the three decades of his career and they were always highly sought-after among his admirers. Oils from Somov’s Russian period rarely come to auction and the appearance of the present work is therefore an exciting opportunity for collectors.
Lots 34-40 come from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and are sold to benefit future acquisitions. The group is led by Sergei Vinogradov’s Woman Seated on Steps (Lot 39, estimate: £250,000 – 350,000) which is from the artist’s ‘In the South’ series, painted between 1915 and 1917, before the outbreak of the Revolution. Created during the summers Vinogradov spent at Alupka in Crimea with Irina Voitsekhovskaya, his student at the Stroganov school who would later become his wife, the series is among the finest works of his career. With its broad expressive brushstrokes and jewel-like palette centred on ultramarine, white, fresh greens and bright reds, Woman Seated on Steps is typical of the series in terms of technique, however, in terms of composition it is perhaps the most successful. Depicted in her luminous white dress and same distinctive white shoes she wears in almost every painting she sits for in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Irina is the central focus of the composition.
The sale will also be highlighted by a rich selection of theatre designs from the distinguished Private Collection of Pat and Michael York. The 27 works (Lots 70-96) feature designs by leading members of the World of Art group, such as Léon Bakst and Alexander Benois, as well as avant-garde artists such as Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, all of whom collaborated with Sergei Diaghilev to create the ground-breaking, and at times provocative, set and costume designs which had made the Ballet Russes such a sensation during the 1910s and 1920s.
Twice a year, the Imperial Porcelain Factory would present its most important objects to the Imperial family for Christmas and Easter, with this magnificently painted vase (Lot 126, estimate: £200,000 – 300,000) presented to Emperor Nicholas I for Christmas in 1834. Emperor Nicholas I was a passionate patron of the arts and was particularly enthusiastic about porcelain. Under his patronage, the production of the factory reached its apogee and works from this period are the finest examples of monumental porcelain by the Imperial Porcelain Factory. One of the finest achievements of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, and a truly monumental Imperial Palace piece, this vase gives us unique insight into Emperor Nicholas I’s personal taste in porcelain, and exemplifies the quality of the works which brought Imperial Porcelain pieces like this truly international fame.
In addition to the vase, the sale also offers a magnificently painted plaque (lot 127, estimate: £500,000 – 700,000) that was presented by Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855) to his sister-in-law, Princess Alexandrine of Prussia (1803-1892) as a Christmas gift in 1852. Of astounding size for a work in porcelain and painted by the talented Imperial Porcelain Factory artist, Aleksei Krasovsky, this plaque appears on the list of ‘Porcelain Objects, made for the Emperor as gifts for Christmas 1852’, held in the Russian State Archive (fund N.468, list N. 10, file N. 659, p. 17). It is one of only three large plaques of the period known to exist and the only example remaining in private hands: it is exceptional in its provenance, quality and rarity.
This rare and important Fabergé jewelled silver, agate and guilloché enamel desk clock (Lot 25, estimate: £80,000 – 120,000) was presented to Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia on the occasion of her marriage to Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark in 1902, by Pyotr Pavlovich Durnovo, Moscow’s Governor General. First cousin of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, Elena’s collection, of which this clock was a part, was one of the few to escape the Russian Revolution intact.